It was 18 months after the fact that I discovered the real reason why we had lost the re-pitch.
It was at an awards dinner, just after Hugh Dennis and just before Mel B.
And it turned out I was right.
We had had the best campaign ideas. The most insightful strategy. A very strong track record.
We had indeed had the most enthusiastic team and (most unlike us) a compelling evaluation and risk-and-reward model.
We had covered all the bases. Apart from the one upon which sat a giant, unspoken elephant.
‘The thing was, Chris,’ said my sashaying ex-client, ‘that we just needed a change. And you were the only moving part that it was within my department’s gift to change.’
Our role therefore had not been that of equal protagonists on a level playing field.
Our role had been to embellish the process of change. The better we were in run-up to the pitch, the bigger and braver felt the change.
It was a role that cost us and it was a role that hit us.
Three months of additional over-service. One exhausted, sadly spent AD. The recruitment fee on a hastily-hired replacement AD who wasn’t right for us, nor we for them. About six months of our new business budget. Angst in team meetings, angst in the board room and angst with stakeholders.
All of which adds up to endorsement of a ‘no re-pitch’ policy, right? Particularly when the stats about re-pitch success are so stark and so clear.
I believe that there is enormous value to be had from the moment you get the dreaded re-pitch notification. Value that can help shape the future success of your business – above and beyond the outcome of the pitch process itself.
Here’s how to realise that value.
1. Face reality.
Move the client’s income from your confirmed line to your potential/pipeline income and apply the appropriate factor. Do that now and prepare whatever contingencies it might necessitate for your business.
2. Get over yourself.
You know exactly what the trade press headlines will be and you know that in spite of them the world will keep turning. Don’t let fear cloud your collective thinking.
3. Find out why.
Not the obvious why. The procurement why or the statutory why or the new marketing director why. The one that lies beneath, that has prevented your client standing up for you in the face of the obvious why.
To do this you – or perhaps a colleague who is not emotionally involved – will have to listen. Not in a way that is simply a quiet pause in the flow of your retention recital. But a way that allows you to learn about changes you will need to make on this account and beyond. There will be insights here that will apply across your business.
4. Be empowered
You have been invited to re-pitch but you don’t have to. Specially as the client is now a prospect (see 1 above) and the story is probably out there already (see 2 above).
The careful refusal accompanied by a ‘head held high’ agency speech is a compelling option that should not be spurned lightly.
But if you do decide to participate, do so in a way that looks above and beyond the pitch itself. So…
5. Have more than one goal.
Keeping the business is unlikely, and ultimately beyond your control. So use the process to test out new ways of presenting. Go on, lose the powerpoint. Blood that junior creative. Actually rehearse. Prove to yourselves that you trade in Grade A pitches; invite a third party beyond the client to evaluate your performance.
6. Campaign, positively
Your strongest card is the access provided by on-going account work. Play it. Introduce new people and new thinking. Don’t save everything up for pitch day. Create and show your new world order. And (the hardest part) sacrifice two or three of the account’s seeming sacred cows.
When the process reaches its conclusion, share your learnings. Not just about why you lost (if, as likely, that’s the case) but about how you made the account better in ways that can be applied elsewhere; how you improved your pitch processes; how people stepped up to the plate in new ways.
And then when you stumble across the client 18 months later you’ll be able to tell them how you’ve moved on, and in a good way. And mean it!